Dry bones

Ezekiel 37:1-14

 

Lauren Daigle, I do not know you personally, but you were tasked to pen, then gloriously sing a song that has reached me at a very dark time. From the first time I heard it, I cried!  ME! She who can read the sappiest sad dog story, and say “Meh. That was sad.”, then move on to the next thing. But let the first strains of Come Alive! (Dry Bones) hit the airwaves anywhere within 100 miles of me, and it’s instant water works. For a while I did not know why. So I returned to a tried and true method….YouTube!  🙂

Then I researched the scripture you drew from. BAM! Right between the eyes!

You see Lauren…….May I call you Lauren? I’m back in treatment…..again…..for the (almost) fourth round of chemo.

I’ve had an easy time of it so far.  No extreme sickness, no pain, only lost my hair the first, and most toxic time. Seriously though. Sure, I get weak(er) with each subsequent treatment. But I can eat. MAN can I eat!! Last December I even began a pretty intense regime going to the gym. I watched what I ate. I did what I was SUPPOSED to do. I. Felt. GREAT! And, low and behold my weight began to drop…..small incriments, just how the doctors like. Gym. Eat right. Rest. Repeat. Blood sugars leveled out. Felt the best I have in many years.

All good things (usually) come to an end. This did too.

Long about April things, how shall I word this? I guess things just stopped working so well. Every. Thing. My body began waging war on me. I’ll spare you gorey details, but I lost my appetite. It seemed like overnight. I don’t mean I wasn’t AS hungry. I mean, it left. I’ve not seen (or felt) it since. I eat about once a day now, and that only because I take meds that need food in me to work. Otherwise, I’d forgo food. No appetite, why eat?

All this time, from December 1st, I was “in treatment”.

Contrary to what might seem the obvious reason for all this, chemo is NOT it.

Let me tell you though, Lauren. You and me? We serve a MIGHTY GOD! Above all else, He is faithful. To borrow your words (wink), God of endless mercy, God of unrelenting love! Do you KNOW how powerful those two phrases ARE??!!

You do know. And you and your co-writer ( I ALWAYS listen to the story behind the song) were commissioned by OUR Father, having never met me, and not likely to this side of heaven, to pen this song. Open your hands to let God take it, and place right it where He knew it would break, bless, move and heal a person in a very dark place….

You see Lauren. Lying here in the hospital tonight, I learned a very sad thing. A woman I have never met, but who God put in MY life immediately after I was diagnosed some 3 1/2 years ago…..She is losing the battle. Exact same cancer as mine.

But…. and this is a GLORIOUS “but”!!!!!

She’s soon to win the victory!

We share almost identical “prodigal” stories. Returned to the God of our youth…through cancer. We talked via social media. We’ve had exactly one phone conversation. I may not get to meet her this side of Glory.

Here’s where it gets GOOD!

When we DO meet, our bodies whole, healed and resurrected????? Oh baby!! I strongly suspect we’ll spend a good deal of eternity, side by side, worshipping the raiser of “the dry bones”!

So Lauren, keep those hands open. Let God continue to place that song where He needs it next. This side of Glory you may never know the impact of this song, your voice. But when you stand before Him, and He says “Show me her works”, your mind  will not be able to comprehend the blessings you’ve sown! I, for one, will be standing there, next to you. And in what I am almost sure will be my most fear-filled voice, I will utter, “Me”. I have no doubt, lined behind me, farther than the eye will see, will be the others….”dry bones” this song has blessed, reached, broken and ultimately led to Divine resurrection. All because you listened to the Sovereign God, who breathed breath into their dry bones, too.

I am sitting here in chemo for the who knows how manyth time. Another patient is brought and sat beside me. There is so little privacy here. Yet somehow it does not seem that bothersome, to the patient or those who could potentially over hear.

I find that without trying I can sit les than 5 feet from someone and be able to ignore what I hear. It’s not really intentional, but it happens.

While in the waiting room before hand three of us shared about our selves and of course our treatment. We were networking, for lack of a better word.

I feel so much better this time around. There are side effects, but ones that are really navigable. I am truly thankful for this.

I am finding depression plaques me more this time.  I fight a little harder against it. I recognize it a little quicker sometimes. It was a monkey on my back LONG before all this nonsense, so I figured it would try to rear it’s ugly head at some point.

My richness of friends never ceases to amaze me. I have not enjoyed being unable to work. But I have been so fortunate to enhance and at times reconnect with those friends. They have all helped me pass the time better.

in the merry, merry month of….June!

I have been followed closely by my oncologist since I finished chemo last summer. Blood work and/or CT every 6 weeks. Things went along swimmingly as far as the imagining went. My blood work was another story. My tumor marker (CA 125) continually climbed as time went on. Symptomaticaly, I was negative. Other than regaining my strength after all I had been through, I felt relatively well…..until about April of this year. I had a sinus infection that took 3 rounds of antibiotics to cure. And I started to feel less well. I thought it might be because I was doing more in general. I couldn’t really put my finger on the unwellness. I simply did not feel as good as I had.

In June my CA 125 jumped up to 1200+, roughly half of what it had been when I was initially diagnosed in 2013. That number bothered me, and fortunately it bugged my oncologist too. She decided I needed a PET scan, which is like an enhanced way to look at my innards. It was determined that my lymph nodes near my groin were engaged. So at that point I was diagnosed with metastatic lymphoma. Prior to the PET scan it was thought I might also have metastatic lung cancer. THAT scared me. Thankfully the PET showed no sign of lung involvement. My fear eased some.

I began a new round of chemo July 1st.

Thankfully there have been few side effects, and the ones I do have do not hamper me much.

I can’t help but wonder how long these treatments will go on. My CA 125 is going up again. When I asked the oncologist what would happen if the chemo did not take the tumor marker down. I was rather discouraged to hear her say that they would need to try a different chemo.

Mostly I am ok with how things are. I can not lie though. Some days I get frustrated and wish it was over!

Then I think of those I know who have lost the battle, and I am restored to fight on.

Learning and watching once again.

Last Friday I sat in my (new) oncologist’s office. Don’t get me wrong. I have not changed the treatment center that has treated me so far. I just have a new doctor by way of the previous one moving on. I like this new doctor.

I did not especially care for what she had to tell me though.

It would seem my cancer has metastisized. I now have spots on my lungs and lymph nodes. There is some question about my liver having a possible lesion also. I go this Saturday for a PET scan, hoping to determine what all is involved.

This time I was scared when she told me this. “Apprehensive” was the word I used, but really I was just plain scared. I know enough to be worried, but not enough about my own to be sure I should be worrying. It was also the first time I felt like I might cry. I wanted to hear ANYTHING other than the fact I have mets.

I have had this wierd preoccupation wondering if people who die suddenly, say in a car crash, have a last thought that they are going to die. I have wondered this most of my life. I had never given thought to what people who are “told” they are going to die of a terminal condition think. I can tell you that I have thought about those things most since all this began than ever before.

I know I have much to learn and will be watching as things progress.

So perhaps my thoughts are darker now. I am going to do my best to shine light on them.

My invisible foe

Yesterday was a meeting with my new oncologist. I am sad to admit I do not recall her name. She does seem nice though. She presents my findings in the clinical way. Does she know I am a nurse and that I understand most of what she is saying? Or that her predecessor gave me foreknowledge regarding my future care? The unfortunate part is that my CA 125 has gone up….again….by about double. I am now hovering at just under 1000. That makes me nervous. I know at my highest it was 2414. That time it included a mass, just on the verge of metastasis, according to my surgeon. So 900+ seems high to me. But once again I am told that since there is no visible cancer on my CT that any further treatment will wait. This invisible monster makes me angry! I can feel it mocking me. It pokes it’s head around the corner, just enough so that I know it is there, but not enough to see it. It’s like the ever elusive Loch Ness monster, or Big Foot. Yet unlike both of those, one day my monster will slip up, and it will be seen! Then and only then I will get a second chance to poison it out of my life. The poison will make me weak and tired, perhaps steal my appetite and upset my life for a while. I will endure that for the sake of irradicating this invisible foe from my life! Even then, he will lurk always in the background, mocking, threatening.

Time moves on

Time has elapsed and I have moved forward with it. I still live with active cancer in my body. I know this becasue my blood work tells me. The CTs I have endured show no “visible” disease and so no further treatment at this time.

I have returned to work and feel like a contributing member of society once again. The unquenchable fatigue has all but disappeared. I am actively working out and strenghtening my body. My diet is much improved. I find that my diabetes is not controlled as well as I would like. That will likely mean another specialist.

This new me, all my scars and functional changes, has taken time for me to adjust. At times, I long for the “old” me, the one I knew so well. It is gone for good. I am an old dog learning new tricks. So be it.

My renewed enjoyment of people has remained, even into my current state of health. I like being with loved ones, I hug them as often as I want. And I find most do not mind.

I have aged another year. Am I wiser? I hope that I am. I “feel” like I am. Who can know these things while we are living them?…..

Ice Walls and Baskets of Worry

Epiphanies are so unique because they are almost always a surprise, therefore unexpected when they arrive.

I know this because my journey has produced several and each time I had no idea I “needed” one.

Several weekends ago I spent time with my cousin, who is much more like my best friend than a relative. We had not made time for each other in a long while so this visit meant a lot to both of us, I am sure.
As I was returning home from that visit my mind began it’s random wandering, as it often does when I travel alone.
My “heart” eyes suddenly opened to the fact that I am much happier since I have traveled this journey than I have been in MANY years!
Being who/how I am, I thought I might try to analyse why that is. These are my conclusions:

The filter through which I look at my world has been radically changed. In fact, I think it was replaced with a new one! I did not know it, but the old one had gotten foggy, making “heart” sight difficult. By this I mean, I had lost some of the correctness of priorities.

As a young person I LOVED giving hugs! I mean I would hug someone I had just met. And I put sincere affection into each one. Some time along the way, I lost that…..in fact I got to where I did not LIKE being hugged. More over, I did not even like being next to a person, whether sitting or standing, if they were touching my person at all. Even my famliy and those I hold closest bothered me if they were physically too close to me…..isn’t that sad?
On that ride I realized I had built up walls of ice as I’ve aged. Those walls were VERY thick too. Since starting this journey, and especially lately, people have been hugging me!!!!! BIG, TIGHT hugs!!!! And you know what? Hugs tend to generate heat…..heat melts ice…..and my walls have all but melted! I am back to where I now initiate hugs! In fact, I look FORWARD to them! My sincere affection for people has returned. I am glad.

The other thing I realized occured just before I sat to type this.

I have always known that I am a worrier. I just tend to put my worries into baskets and “hide them away”. I had so many baskets of worry that my heart had gotten full of the wrong things; anxiety, restlessness, general blackness. You get the idea. We all have some of it in there, just some of us more than others.

I worry less if I know the begining and the end of a situation. That might be why I put my worries in baskets. That way I would only pull out the basket I needed to “worry” about when I felt I needed to “worry” about that particular area of my life.

I have addressed before how little control I have over the begining OR end of this journey. The silver lining of that is I have learned to stop collecting worry to put in my baskets about it. I am not PERFECT at this!!! OH NO!!! But I have come a very long way, and the removal of clutter from my mind and heart by emptying those baskets and not refilling them feels like a weight has been lifted!

Can it be that these two things have opened my heart for more happiness to fill it? All I know is that this feeling of a deeper, more meaningful happiness is like laying down on satin sheets….smooth and soft.

Lemonade

“If life hands you lemons, make lemonade”.
This is the slogan on the shirt the cancer center had for the Walk.

I got to thinking about this as I was doing errands the other day. I thought about how lemons on their own are so sour. Some people like that and will actually suck on them. I am not one of those people. I like sugar added to the juice and drinking it, ice cold on hot, humid days!

We all like our lemonade with varying degrees of sweetness. I like it only a little sweet. I find it more refreshing that way.

Handed my “lemons” back in December, I had no idea how I would ” make lemonade”. The most wonderful thing happened though. “I” did not need to worry about adding the sweetness. Others did that for me. There were so many things that sweetened it for me.
For example; The nurses and aids who helped as I came out of surgery as I struggled to walk to the bathroom or even turn in my bed. I received a BEAUTIFUL bouquet of flowers in my room in Pitts. from friends of the family. I was bowled over by that gesture. My husband and sister in law helped me with simple things like bathing or moving. I got home and my family did all they could to make me comfortable. They even put off celebrating Christmas until I felt better. Many people brought food for my home. Others began dropping in for visits as I was able to receive people. SO many people prayed for me, supporting me here online. There was so much that so many did. And all made sure before they helped out that it was something I was ok with. So sweet were my lemons that I had lemonade before I knew it!

I would say I am mostly an optomistic person, but this tried even MY character. However, I can NOT look back with any complaints. I have lemonade to sip throughout and I am thankful for that.

Jars of Clay

2 Corinthians 4:7-18New International Version (NIV)

7 But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. 8 We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; 9 persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. 10 We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. 11 For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may also be revealed in our mortal body. 12 So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you.

13 It is written: “I believed; therefore I have spoken.”[a] Since we have that same spirit of[b] faith, we also believe and therefore speak, 14 because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us with Jesus and present us with you to himself. 15 All this is for your benefit, so that the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God.

16 Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. 17 For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. 18 So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

These verses are often referred to by those experiencing physical ailments. It is not surprising as it refers to the outcome of the human trials we go through, especially if the ailment is fatal.

“But we have this treasure in jars of clay….” I happen to like that. I am a vessel, yet I am one made of something easily broken. I am able to be filled, poured out, dropped and broken. Yet I consider my life a “treasure”. So “this treasure” tells me that my life has meaning.

My “jar” has been broken and re-assembled in this last year…..I know it to be true as I have the crack running right down the middle of my stomach!!!! There have been toxic chemicals poured into my jar. I suspect those may have weaken it’s integrity, yet I am still intact. There is every chance that the composition of my jar has been altered with all I have gone through. Perhaps I am not as shiny and new as I was before. I might even have some chips or nicks of which I am not aware. I find that the outer appearance of my jar means little to me. I am so relieved to be intact and useable.

I don’t know if this makes any sense to anyone but me, but I am actually thankful to have been “approved” to go this journey of cancer. I am glad that God allowed this of me. It has been a gift in more ways than I quite know how to express. Never one to shy from a conversation, it has given me even more opportunities to share my story. It has slowed me down to listen. My life feels somehow fuller, though I would never have called my life empty or uneventful prior. It has given me that “vision” that this type of illness produces. For example, the sunrise/sunset seem more lovely than I recall. Being able to laugh with a friend feels deeper.

And yes….it has focused me more “on what is unseen”. Sometimes I find myself drifting off to those thoughts, allowing myself to wonder, “what if..?”, or “how will it be when..?”.

Sometimes we as humans settle into life, thinking things will drift along as we want them as long as we do our part for that to be so. Then BAM! We are thrown that chink in the works!

I want to encourage you if you are reading this NOT to be afraid of that chink! It may derail things for a time, but if you are open to it, you will come away with knowledge that surprises even yourself. You will learn of “unseen things”, expand your life, and perhaps feel your heart grow fuller for it.

16 Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. 17 For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. 18 So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

Sigh……

Yes, sigh.

Thankfully I received my first of two more sessions of chemo yesterday. As I sat there receiving it, I tried to recall what all I would go through again. Odd that in a mere month and a half I would not remember so well. And I realize things may be different than last time.

So far I have “recalled” this much.

The decadron gave me the munchies like MAD last night. Like a fool I ate right up til I went to bed, which was actually this morning around 1:30am. Is it any wonder that a mild case of GERD followed me to my attempt at slumber. DUH me!!

My husband installed the AC in our bedroom earlier this week b/c the combination of the humidity and my nights sweats was slightly more than I could stand. Now, it feels like walking into a crypt, it is so cool in there! Did it help me sleep? YES! That is until last night when the decadron, combined with my poor eating choices kept me just on the fringe of sleep, but never fully there. Sigh…..

To add to the sleep challenge, at one point my husband must have been dreaming he was falling because he reached  out and “gently” GRABBED my right shoulder in a death grip! That really gave the sleep challenge a work-out! Sigh…….

I sound whiny. I apologize. It is more resignation than anything. I know what’s on the horizon; low magnesium (at least until I am done with the chemo), weird sleeping patterns and eating habits, perhaps pain, although that is not a given, probably some nausea. All things I am more than capable of managing and going through. And this is just a brief stint this time. This time does not feel like a precipice…..more like a pothole, though this year they might be more similar than one would like to believe!

Always I know God is going before me, over-seeing my path, preparing me for it.

This morning mom and I are going garage saleing! I have no funds with which to make purchases, and honestly, I just plain like spending time with her! So the saleing is fun, but Mom time is the best part. I believe God prepared my parents for this journey as much or more than me. They have been so far beyond amazing I can not even begin to explain. I know they pray for me….I sense it often! Actually my whole immediate and extended family have been amazing! I have wanted/needed for little! And the friend support….”get outta here!” (spoke in my best Italian mob voice!).

Sigh……

“The only thing I need I already have, the fullness of God’s mercy in my hand!”…a line from another song that blesses me each time I listen to it.

And this time the sigh is contentment